When I was growing up, my mom had no social life outside of her family. In fact, I can’t recall a single occasion in which she went out on weekends or evenings without us. I realize that my mom might be an extreme example, but in general, I don’t think it’s very unusual for middle-aged women in the U.S. to stay at home with the family most of the time.
But it’s very different here in China. Middle-aged women here seem to have very vibrant social lives. For one thing, they dance. They dance A LOT. They leave their kids at home and come out to dance in parks, in their apartment courtyards, basically in any open space, any day of the week, day and night (although more at night, I think). You can take a stroll through a typical Chinese neighborhood and come across multiple groups of line-dancers. Back in December, we came across this group of ladies at a park in the Shekou neighborhood, dancing to Billy Ray Cyrus’ “Achy Breaky Heart.” They had cowboy hats and coordinated outfits and everything (I just love that lady in green).
Middle aged ladies (and men) also go out with friends to play a lot of mahjong. But I have not actually seen this in action, other than those occasional games that are played outdoors at parks and stuff, so I can’t tell you too much about it. Many students at the school have told me that their moms (and dads) frequently stay out late at nights to play mahjong with friends. We’ve also come across many mahjong tables in people’s homes and in private rooms of restaurants.
What I haven’t figured out yet is what their children do while the parents/moms are out dancing and playing mahjong. Do they stay home with the grandparents? Do they stay and do homework? Are there babysitters? (BTW, I think the concept of babysitting — especially as it is in the U.S. with teen girls as the sitters — is basically nonexistent in China. Most families live with their grandparents, who look after the kids. But this only works because people have children relatively young in China so grandparents are young enough and have the stamina to be full-time babysitters, I think. Also, they usually only have one child to babysit. That is my theory on this topic.)